Recently I was helping a friend who is nearing retirement put together information to file for Social Security benefits. Although I don't know any more about it than he does I have a few more computer skills, and it seemed that doing it online was going to streamline the process.
That turned out to be wrong. He eventually called the local office of the Social Security Administration and after a long time on hold he spoke to a woman who interviewed him and sent forms through snail mail. I guess they figure if you're 65 years old you can't use a computer. While that may be true of many, it's not true of all, and they should make it a little easier to do this online if that's your choice. But that's just the beginning of what I learned that ticked me off about the government.
She asked about marriages, divorces, children, etc. Had he ever been divorced. Yes. Was he married to his former spouse for more than ten years. No.
Apparently if you were married for ten years of longer, your former spouse may be eligible to collect Social Security benefits based on your earnings record when he/she reaches retirement age. This is if you earned more and he/she is not married to someone else at the time. That does not diminish the amount of benefits you collect, however.
While going over the documents he got by snail mail, he began to question whether they had been married more than ten years. The marriage ended over 30 years ago. Who remembers these things, he said. If he was a woman, you know he would remember the time, day and date of the divorce but men aren't wired that way.
After much searching and aggravation he came up with the Petition for Divorce. They had divorced after 11 years of marriage. Obviously the people at SSA would have to be notified.
As I looked over his shoulder at this one legal sheet of yellowed paper that had been folded into quarters, the information obviously typewritten, I noticed that she was granted the divorce on grounds of "extreme cruelty." Having known this friend for a few years and knowing that he could never have been guilty of "extreme cruelty" in any situation, never mind against a woman he shared children with, I was shocked by this.
What is that about? I asked. He said that was the only grounds under which you could get a divorce back then. There was no dissolution of marriage as a result of irreconcilable differences even if the divorce was amicable and consensual. When I was divorced several years after they were, it was on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Very neat and clean. No one accusing anyone of "cruelty."
To make it worse, the last line of the details of the Petition of Divorce dealing with child custody, child support, house, etc., said that he...."be permanently enjoined from molesting, annoying or interfering with her." That seemed especially nasty language considering the decision to divorce was mutual.
Talk about extreme cruelty. The courts should have no business in determining who does and who doesn't divorce anyway, especially when it's something both parties agree to.